Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Where have all the youth group folks gone?

I grew up when Walther League was still the name recognition of LCMS youth.  It did not last long and soon more than the name was gone.  I am not writing a nostalgia piece here.  The last thing we need is someone telling us that we need to go back to the way it was done 40-50 years ago.  I realize that the world is different, that kids are different, that the challenges are different.  What concerns me is that all our energy in making youth group fun and exciting, all our efforts to incorporate music that sounds more like what our youth listen to on the radio (make that their Ipods), and all our money spent on rooms, recreation, and relevent stuff has not done much.

  • 20-30 year olds attend church at 1/2 the rate of their parents and ¼ the rate of their grandparents.
  • 61% of churched high school students graduate and never go back! (Time Magazine, 2009) 
  • Even worse: 78%  to 88% of those in youth programs today will leave church, most to never return. (Lifeway, 2010)
Now, granted, these are not the statistics of LCMS youth but they probably are not that far off.  We have coddled them with entertainment, we have made over the church to reflect their supposed musical taste, and we have bought into the idea that youth ministry needs to be hip and fun... all for what?  Many of them are falling away like leaves off the tree in the Fall.  Are they coming back?  I don't know...  Marriage and children were once the great wake up calls to recall the distracted youth from their wanderlust but the postponement of marriage and the fewer children born to young people has left us with fewer built in alarms to the need for connection to the Church and the faith.  We could debate this until the cows come home -- the point I am trying to make is that those redesigned youth programs of the 1980s-today have not connected the youth to the Church nor have they catechized our youth to instill the value of belonging and being together around the Word and Table of the Lord each week.

If parents were counting on youth programs, they dropped the ball.  If the churches were depending upon youth programs, they have been left wanting. There is no replacement for strong family faith and values, reinforced by solid catechesis, and reflected in the regular and normative practice of Sunday worship.  Part of the reason each succeeding generation seems less attached is that their parents were less attached than their parents, and so on.  In addition, we went through a period in which we thought relationship building was more important that teaching the actual faith and our catechesis did not match up to our confession.  The point that I am trying to make is that competing for the endless choices in the marketplace of pleasure will always leave us a distant fourth or fifth to the more exciting options for entertainment, excitement, and fun.  Youth programs have got to stop trying to compete with the vast entertainment options already available to middle and high school age youth and need to start teaching and reinforcing the truth and values of the faith (not in the least of which is why weekly worship is so important for us).

Making church fun and having music you can dance to on Sunday morning is not going to capture or keep our kids.  Segregating our kids from adults and telling them to trust their feelings is not going to help them believe or remain faithful.  Parental teaching and example, dedicated catechesis, and good church going habits in the family are still our best hope to pass on the faith.  The people who think this is about style have it all wrong.  It was and it will always be about substance and about substantial commitment and example on the part of the adults in our kids' lives.

I just thought I would beat the drum on the familiar bandwagon again.... but if you are tired of it, you can move along to something else...


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

The last thing we need is someone telling us that we need to go back to the way it was done 40-50 years ago.

You're right. You need to go back at least 100 years. Seriously. That is what I am doing.

Anyway, I generally agree with you, but I don't think this world and its challenges are really different, or that kids are different either.

What worked 1,000 years ago, still works now. Nothing new under the sun.

Anonymous said...

The LCMS did a study some years ago
on youth groups. Their conclusion:
High School youth are active in their
LCMS parish in direct correlation
to the activity of their parents
in that parish.

Bottom line: If parents are not
active in your parish, then do not
expect their teenagers to be active.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, the LCMS youth are not on this Facebook page:

As Rick Warren is very popular among young "missionals" in the LCMS, how do they feel about Warren partnering with Oprah and Joel Osteen?

When will the LCMS "missionals" finally wake up?

Brett Davison said...

Before we start talking about the tragedy of falling church attendance we always have to acknowledge that the numbers from the good old days are fluffed up with what I call "Christianish Agnostics", that is to say people who might consider themselves Christians but do not treat the Bible as authoritative, do not consider God relevant to their lives, and probably don't know a whole lot about Christian doctrine anyway. In many ways I am glad to see that church attendance is dropping because I believe that it is the pruning of the Vine. However, there are also people who are genuine Christians who fall away and I believe that when it comes to those people (particularly the college-age ones) the problem is a lack of theological and apologetic training. The New Atheists have renamed their ideology "Reason" and set against it all supernaturalist ideologies which are distinct as "Faith", and it seems like we've let them do it.

WRVinovskis said...

It's always easier to point out what everyone else is doing wrong, than to speak to the serious question that Pastor Peters raises. There is no lack of false teaching within the umbrella of those who call themselves Christian and no lack of heresy and blasphemy outside of the Church, but that doesn't really address the LCMS question, "Where have all the youth group folks gone."

It seems to me one of the factors that needs to be part of the conversation is the role of church as center of family and community. For many years, both in rural and suburban areas, church was the center of community life for many people. For ethnic immigrants, it was the place where Germans, Polacks, Slovaks, Swedes, etc. gathered together, worshipped God and celebrated their culture. Ethnic foods and traditions (pork and sauerkraut suppers, lutefisk dinners, etc.) were core to the life of the congregation. Additionally, back then television meant 3-channels, youth sports meant playing in the back yard or sand lot. Church met the need for community gatherings and filled the empty hours for youth and adults with Laymen's Leagues, Missionary Leagues, Walther and Luther Leagues, and bowling and softball leagues. AAL chapters and Women's circles provided opportunities for fellowship and service. Today, the ethnic ties are fading (though nothing beats a good, Greek Orthodox food festival)and people's primary social needs are no longer met by the church community and they have little time for "leagues" of any sort. People's lives are filled with RV's and Home Depot projects. There are now 300 cable channels and youth sports run 7-days per week, including Sunday mornings. The decline in church attendance and youth groups can be tracked in parallel with the decline of bowling (and church basement shuffleboard). Here's a good article on the topic:

The bad news is that people no longer have to come to church to socialize and eat homemade dumplings. Therefore, many don't. The good news is that those who do come perhaps, come for the things that are unique to church: the Divine Service, the Means of Grace, the opportunity for Christian fellowship and service.

Here's the rub: some churches today have realized is the many people no longer bowl, quilt or make Slovak noodles; but they do exercise, Zumba and enroll their kids in soccer leagues. So, instead of a bowling alley in the basement, they have Zumba class and instead of a youth program they have soccer programs. In a sense, they are trying to capture a bit of the past, but perhaps unwittingly engendering the next generation of "Christianish Agnostics".

robert lahm said...

Using music and entertainment as a means to connect the youth to the church has not yielded the outcomes it was supposed to. As a matter of fact, the youth has got deviated from the the original teachings of Jesus. Using the earlier methods to foster and preach the almighty’s teachings is a better solution to pass on the faith to the next generation. Parental teaching and example, dedicated catechesis, and good <a href=">Youth minsters </a> should be there to bring the youth to the church and get closer to God.